Moving ahead too quickly with Blue Line ‘would be a mistake,’ House speaker says

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The powerful Republican leader of the Indiana House of Representatives said he’s open to the idea of preventing IndyGo from using dedicated bus lanes for the Blue Line, bringing new momentum to a perennial proposal among some GOP lawmakers that the transit agency says would derail the planned bus route.

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, told IBJ that he’s been approached by business owners on Washington Street who are concerned that the projected two-year construction period for the Blue Line, which will run east and west on the thoroughfare, would force them to shut down.

“I think the idea of the Red Line, the Blue Line…felt like a good idea at the time, but I think the idea of putting more lane restrictions on a street like Washington Street needs to be considered,” Huston said.

“I also think that there may be a discussion to be had about the state…taking back control [of Meridian and Washington streets], and working with the city to do that. And if we’re going to do that, then I think moving too fast on the Blue Line would be a mistake,” he added.

His comments come after Sen. Aaron Freeman, a Republican from Indianapolis, filed legislation that would prevent IndyGo from using dedicated bus lanes for the Blue Line.

Freeman has told IBJ he’s not against public transit, but against the dedicated lanes, which he said will slow traffic on Washington Street, a major thoroughfare that borders the Statehouse.

The transit agency says Freeman’s proposal would effectively kill the planned bus rapid transit line.

“Without dedicated lanes, the Blue Line does not move forward and would mean the devastating loss of millions of dollars in traffic calming and safety features, along with significant drainage and infrastructure improvements, including sidewalks, street paving, and ADA curb ramps along Washington Street that otherwise would not be realized along a corridor that desperately needs it,” IndyGo spokesperson Carrie Black told IBJ last month after Freeman’s bill was filed.

The issue is one of several in recent years that has put the Republican-dominated Legislature at odds with the initiatives heralded by Democratic-controlled city-county government in Indianapolis.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on the bill on Thursday. Sen. Ryan Mishler, a Republican from Mishawaka who chairs that committee, did not respond to IBJ’s request for comment Thursday afternoon.

Should the bill advance out of the Senate and move to the House, it would likely be sent to the House Roads and Transportation, which is chaired by Rep. Jim Pressel, a Republican from northwest Indiana.

Pressel told IBJ he remains “on the fence” on the issue but “would definitely look at it with an open mind.”

Freeman and other Republican lawmakers have taken on similar efforts in previous legislative sessions, but those did not publicly receive a green flag from Speaker Huston.

In 2022, a bill from the late Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, would’ve banned new dedicated bus lanes outside Mile Square downtown, though it never got a hearing. Later, an amendment authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, would have conditioned the removal of some public transportation funding requirements on compliance with new lane minimums.

In 2021, Freeman filed a bill that included similar fundraising penalties as well as an amendment that would have required IndyGo to reimburse utility companies for relocation work. That legislation passed the Senate but was not called for a hearing in the House.

Freeman authored an amendment in the 2020 session that would have withheld money from IndyGo if it didn’t raise enough private donations.

Construction on the Blue Line, which carries an estimated price tag of $370 million, is slated to begin in 2025 and finish by 2027.

The Red Line, which links Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis, began operation in 2019 and already has dedicated lanes. Meanwhile, IndyGo is slated to soon complete the Purple Line, which runs from downtown Indianapolis to Lawrence and utilizes dedicated lanes.

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43 thoughts on “Moving ahead too quickly with Blue Line ‘would be a mistake,’ House speaker says

  1. Washington St. used to be a state highway until it was relinquished to the city of Indianapolis. The state is no longer paying to maintain this road, but it looks like they still want to control it. If they want to be the controlling jurisdiction on the street, that should at least come with the several hundred million dollars in funding it would take to bring Washington St. up to par.

    1. What a joke the General Assembly is! There are pressing and big issues facing the state and taxpayer paid ^state* legislators would rather waste time and money battling a purely local bus line that has been studied for years.

      We have local elections for a reason, if the majority of residents did not like how things were done they could have voted in a new Mayor and City-Council with a mandate to appoint new IndyGo board members and to review and question the agency’s budget. Of Aaron Freeman wants to spend his time trying to control local government policy decisions, he should resign his state seat and run again for the City-County Council. And, the same for Tod Huston—move to Indy and run for the City-County Council. I wonder how he would feel if a state legislator proposed a bill telling Fishers how to manage their local roads? I am sure he would not be too keen on the idea.

      Stop wasting taxpayers’ time and money *meddling* in local affairs and engaging in political grandstanding. Do the job you were elected to do in the General Assembly!

    2. Freeman claims he isn’t anti-transit, but he has to act because Washington Street is the primary route between Hancock and Hendricks County, which hasn’t been the case since the interstate opened *before Freeman was born*. I’m amazed he’s able to find his way to the Statehouse each morning with such an innate sense of direction, but then again, as he reminds everyone he opens his mouth, he is a lawyer so he’s the smartest man in the room.

      The federal government is going to give us lots of money to fix up a crumbling road of Marion County, a county that the state of Indiana has stolen road funding from, that was designed to be a major thoroughfare in a long ago era before interstates..

      All it “costs” is one lane of traffic on a road that hasn’t needed that second lane since the interstate opened, and whose design has proven to be a menace to the local residents, who oh-by-the-way are for the Blue Line because Washington Street gets them hurt and killed.

      And the state of Indiana is going to tell the federal government no because a few businesses (one of which opened in March and apparently neglected to do any research on their location) don’t want the construction to take two years.

      Maybe the fix is to properly fund DPW in Indianapolis so they can do construction faster. We can HyperFix downtown interstates multiple times in the past two decades but we can’t apply the same principles of time vs. money elsewhere?

      If only there was a recent election in which Freeman could have run for mayor of Indianapolis. If only.

  2. Yet another attempt from the GOP to insert themselves into the inner workings of Indianapolis. They will do anything to prevent expansion of public transit to serve the working class.

  3. Traffic on Washington Street is basically at an all time low. I-70 is only a few minutes away from nearly any point on Washington Street. Traffic desiring a high speed, limited access roadway should be using I-465 and I-70 instead of surface level streets like Washington.

    1. When Irvington did some traffic calming measures (narrowing lans, adding parking, creating a median) a few years back, they did a traffic study. In 1975 there were about 50,000 cars that used US40. Today that number is less than half of that. The road could use a diet and I don’t think anybody would blink.

  4. We have gone far and stopping the Blue Line is a mistake. Moving the route to another road is a mistake. Public transit is so important for the growth of Indy. This is coming from a person that lived in Irvington for 5 years.

  5. How would the State (maybe?) taking ownership of Washington Street change anything? The amount of traffic would be the same, the striping, the width…nothing changes other than who holds it. So why would the State need to pre-emptively kill something (instead of working with business owners in good faith) over something that may or may not happen? This doesn’t pass the smell test.

    1. The state could and would actually reconstruct W Washington like they did E Washington a decade ago. E Washington works great since then. Since the city took the money from INDOT to own Washington during the Goldsmith years, INDOT has only controlled outside of 465. The city has not made any serious improvements since. Also, INDygo has not followed DPW recommendations on the Redline, and that’s why they had to rebuild major portions of the Redline. DPW also refused to pay for any of Indygo’s extras on the original Blueline design on W Washington to fix the horrendous drainage problems. The biggest problem with any of the INDygo lines is they used out of town design consultants that had no real understanding of Indianapolis and our street system. An INDOT solution on W Washington would be best for all involved.

    2. It would mean the state of Indiana would control that road instead of Indy DPW and INDOT would make sure to keep it nice and wide. As you might have noticed with the North Split, and as folks around the state have learned with projects like the Mid-States Corridor, INDOT does what it wants and local residents should just shut up and listen to the transportation experts.

      The point of the state reclaiming those roads is because Republicans from outside Marion County that feel Marion County should have more roads that are designed to accommodate the needs of commuters over residents. Aaron Freeman and his ilk want to get from their rural properties to the Statehouse as fast as possible, and anyone in their way can get bent. Because only a fool and sucker would live in Marion County, and heaven forbid that Marion County be allowed to do anything to improve the quality of life for their residents that makes a drive a second longer for a commuter.

      Here’s an idea – if you want a shorter commute and that’s your priority, move. I did a decade ago. It’s probably saved me at least a thousand hours in a car. If you value other things like more acreage or a specific school system, that’s great! Understand that life has compromises and that you signed up willingly for that commute.

    3. Kevin – Even the background of your statement was wrong. The City didn’t “take money from INDOT” to own Washington during the Goldsmith Administration. Washington Street going to Indy happened WAY before that. The State Legislature passed a mileage cap on the quantity of highways INDOT can own and, when the interstates were built, they relinquished formerly State-owned roads to the city. IndyGo (not INDyGo) didn’t “not follow the recommendations of DPW,” DPW has to sign off on those designs because they are still streets owned by DPW. Just about everything you said was factually incorrect.

  6. It makes absolutely no sense for anyone that doesn’t live in Indy to be making decisions on what’s best for the residents that do. This is exactly why Nashville and Austin has surpassed Indy. Elected leaders here are not creative and innovative in their visions to grow the city. The conservative mindset doesn’t have to applied to everything. Indy is the state capital and largest city in the state. They want to put the city on a national platform and attract out of state talent and investments but aren’t willing to allow the city to thrive as a big city should without all the restraints and restrictions. Indy should be the one place in the state where if you want the city life experience you can definitely get that in Indy. Mass transit is a must if Indy is going to compete with its peers. One reason Amazon overlooked Indy is because it lacked a true mass transit. City and government officials in Indiana are always slow to catch up with the trends that work and attract talent. This is why Indy went from the 12th largest to now around the 15th or 16th. Indy is constantly losing ground to places we use to be larger than like, Nashville, Austin, Columbus and even Kansas City and Cincinnati. They all at least have street cars.

  7. This has been in planning since 2016, and delayed several times. The State Legislature is an absolute joke.

    And it’s looking like Aaron Freeman’s 2023 bill to “study a state takeover of Marion County state highways” was nothing more than a calculated move to create a quiet way to kill the Blue Line – something I’ve been worried about since last session.

  8. The RedLine is such a success how could anyone question putting more of our tax money towards the Blue and Purple?
    The pretty bus lanes traveled by the empty Chinese made electric busses are only eclipsed by the beautiful empty stations they service. Public art at its best.

    Let’s fund a rainbow of bus lines for everyone to enjoy. Why spend the money on housing and public safety?

    Those fools in the Statehouse.

    1. The most recent budget has record levels of public safety spending and passed unanimously. Meaning, even Republicans voted for it.

      And the most recent Republican mayoral candidate, who just got drilled, ran on a platform of implementing a “door-to-door public transportation model” to replace IndyGo. Of course, he was a terrible candidate so he didn’t manage to throw that out there until a week before the election.

      If you want to get rid of the Indianapolis bus system, that’s fine. Make the case to the voters of Indianapolis and win some elections in Marion County and do it that way. Do you see Indianapolis Democrats submitting bills telling the rural parts of Indiana that the state should pre-empt local efforts to stop the spread of solar farms?

      https://www.ibj.com/articles/jefferson-shreve-five-initiatives-to-jump-start-change-in-indianapolis

  9. “IndyGo’s initiative to give free Election Day rides is under threat at the Statehouse.

    Sen. Gary Byrne (R-Byrneville) has filed a bill to prohibit public transportation agencies from offering free or reduced-fare rides on election days.

    For the past two years, the AARP of Indiana has sponsored free Election Day rides on public transit in Indianapolis, Gary, Fort Wayne and Evansville.

    Byrne told Axios the bill is about fairness for Hoosiers, like those who live in rural areas, who don’t have access to public transportation.

    “The rural parts of those counties can’t get a free ride,” he said.”

    Must be neat to represent a town with your name on it, but let’s move along. Byrneville is in Harrison County.

    “Don’t have access to public transportation”.

    It’s too bad Senator Byrne hadn’t heard of the Southern Indiana Transit System, which provides public transportation in the rural southern Indiana counties of Crawford, *Harrison*, Scott, Washington and Floyd.

    Because if he was interested in helping his constituents, maybe he’d increase the funding for public transportation in his district which already exists, so they could also have free rides on Election Day … as opposed to just coming off like a buffoon.

    https://www.axios.com/local/indianapolis/2024/01/12/free-bus-rides-election-day

    1. I just love these out-state legislators from tinytown who (think they) know how Indy should run. The old-timey chair of one of the legislative transportation and roads committees back when the Legislature passed the ban on light rail in Indy was from a town of 300.

      (Byrneville is an unincorporated settlement in Harrison County near the intersection of Whiskey Run and Indian Bluff Roads. It appears to be a couple dozen houses, a church, a cemetery, and the big business, Byrne Satellite.)

    2. Chris, I have to correct you on one thing. Because we can’t run around like the Indiana GOP and say ridiculous things.

      Jim Pressel hails from Rolling Prairie, which doesn’t have 300 people. It has 334.

      Rolling Prairie also doesn’t have a stoplight. But it does sit right next to the federally funded US20 and the federally funded I-80. And Pressel was quite glad to land funding from the state government via the Community Crossings Matching Grant Program, another program designed to prefer roads in rural areas over urban areas. Just listen to what he had to say:

      “We count on our roads to be safe and functioning, which requires constant upkeep and care. With this program, there is dedicated state funding to help Hoosier communities move ahead with important projects and plan for their future needs.”

      https://www.indianahouserepublicans.com/news/press-releases/reps.-pressel-teshka-state-dollars-in-route-to-laporte-county-michigan-city-for-road-projects/

  10. Indiana has a proud history of rejecting federal mandates that don’t make sense here. Sen. Freeman’s proposed legislation exists within that long and honorable tradition. Freeman rightly recognizes as stupid the federal anti-car mandate of requiring at least half of these new bus routes to delete functional traffic lanes by requiring them to be dedicated bus lanes.

    Transit does not have to be a zero-sum game. To gain new transit, it is not essential to befoul existing modes of transit. But federal policy and city planning for the last couple of decades both have operated on the core idea that “cars are bad” and must be punished in order to achieve ____ (public transit, pedestrian safety, bicycle safety – whatever this week’s flavor is). Glad to see pushback against this idiotic notion.

    1. “We’re proud of the opportunities we’ve let pass us by because we prefer to pander to the public rather than listen to professionals address things meaningfully. We can’t govern! Hooray!”

    2. “Pandering to the public” – you mean representative democracy? I agree with you that an empowered citizenry is indeed inconvenient to the professional class who think they know best about everything.

    3. Richard, I think AR meant that the statehouse Republicans are “pandering to the MAGA minority who are Republican primary voters and control most of the gerrymandered statehouse districts”.

    4. Here’s the thing, Richard ….

      The federal government has helped us pay for the expansion of I-70 yet again.

      Washington Street, as noted above, has seen a precipitous drop in usage.

      It’s already not zero sum. We’ve moved lanes of traffic from the roads people are not using to the roads they are using. Freeman isn’t rejecting a federal mandate. If it had anything to do with the dedicated lane of traffic, he’d be pairing this bill with increased funding to Indianapolis to fix the road.

      That he hasn’t, and he also has a bill to study taking key roads away from Indianapolis, gives away his real motivation – shut down the transit system because he thinks it’s stupid, then take away key roads from Indianapolis because they might make changes that he, stuck in a view of Indianapolis that existed 40 years ago, can’t abide. It’s all about making life easier for folks like him to drive through Indianapolis like maniacs to get where they’re going 60 seconds faster.

    5. If this were 1836 and Sen. Freeman was trying to stop the canal spending, this same know-it-all professional managerial class – always fully in attendance in these IBJ comment sections – would be ripping him for backwardness, resisting the inevitable glorious transit future – canals! – they were absolutely certain was worth expending mammoth sums on.

    6. Also Richard…the people of Indianapolis voted FOR a transit referendum that included the Blue Line. So if Sen Freeman and his cabal were really supportive of democracy, he wouldn’t be trying so hard to circumvent the popularly expressed will of the people.

    7. Richard, riddle me this.

      Several of the same people insistent on killing IndyGo claim the future is driverless electric cars and we should invest big in that. Now you tell me, what’s more like the Indiana canal debacle … going whole hog into an unproven technology like driverless electric cars that might not be ready for our lifetimes, or maximizing the usage of a nearly 200 year old road using a 100 year old technology?

      Seems to me like the sensible choice is the bus lane. Of course, I’m not a lawyer like Aaron Freeman. Maybe Freeman wants to push us into driverless cars so he can get rich pursuing personal injury lawsuits for the pedestrians the cars kill. Makes as much sense as everything else he’s throwing against the wall to justify his legislative bills.

    8. Much of this “road diet” and “traffic calming” silliness comes from people who grew up in suburbia, went to college for a planning degree, moved to the city and now are designing the city to look like the cul de sac communities they came from. The goal is slow everything. Memo from those of us who actually like living in a city, who live here and own businesses here: We prefer our urban grid unthrottled. If you hate fast-paced life and lots of traffic, go live in a nice golf-cart community somewhere.

    9. Richard, if you’re an urban resident who wants Indianapolis like it was back when everything closed at 5 and it was called India-no-place, why don’t you ask your local legislator to make these changes?

      Instead of a rural legislator who is a personal injury lawyer from suburbia who, like you, is stuck in the past.

      If Aaron Freeman fought for Marion County road funding as hard as he fights against IndyGo, I wouldn’t hammer him so hard. But I just find it curious that when it comes to what matters, all those Marion County legislators are so impotent.

      can produce the road funding that Indianapolis needs, as opposed to sitting on the

    1. Now run some numbers on where the city of Indianapolis gets federal funding to fix Washington Street.

      Here’s a deal I would make … city of Indianapolis will close IndyGo. The state government will pay the costs for the Uber-like replacement of their dreams, which will be required to maintain various quality of service standards, like no rider having to wait more than five minutes for a ride. State pays for a decade until we find out just how much this totally untested means of public transportation works, or it even does.

      Additionally, the state of Indiana fully funds the infrastructure needs of Marion County as defined by the third party study that the city already did. Because we’ve cut off the federal funding that came from bus lines.

      I doubt Republicans would take the deal.

  11. More made up new words “traffic calming”. New lane restrictions and now no turn on red downtown. All unnecessary. The Red Line required free ridership and no one is on it. The electric busses are inadequate and so was the initial concrete thickness due to the weight of buses. More wasted tax money to fix these issues. The blue line and purple line are only being recommended because of the funding that’s been provided and the money that needs to be spent. Indianapolis is a car commuter city and always will be. It just doesn’t have the population to support this and only irritates everyone that works downtown. This is another government funded handout and a waste of tax dollars. Build the sidewalks on Washington street and save our money.

    1. Traffic calming has been a concept since the 70s….

      Also, all words are made up. It’s how language works

    2. “All unnecessary?” Tell that to all of the pedestrians that have died due to the “cars first” problem we have created. Indianapolis needs to invest in having all roads “calmed” and place pedestrians over cars.

  12. How about a compromise here? If IndyGo is intent on building the Blue Line, why not put all its eggs in one basket for awhile and finish the portion in Irvington as quickly as possible, rather than spread it out over two years.

    Irvington business owners have legitimate concerns over what a prolonged road project would mean for their businesses. We’ve seen how long other road projects in the city can take — it’s never as quick as projected,

    Much of East and West Washington passes through areas of urban blight. Irvington is an exception. Does IndyGo really want to put businesses in a thriving area in jeopardy?

  13. Why is there such a concern, on a state level, of micro-managing an Indianapolis street that has excess capacity. And, why the great interest in expanding vindictive government initiatives. First light rail is banned, now bus lanes are to be banned, what next?

  14. Why doesn’t this GOP legislature look at Salt Lake, a democratic city in a very GOP state that has good transit. Frankly, it just seems too many GOP in the Statehouse want to exert control over Indianapolis, residents be damned. But, what positive aspects have they purposed to improve transit efficiency (if not dedicated lanes), roadway safety (if not no turn on red), travel time improvement along roadways (traffic signals notwithstanding). Freeman and other have not proposed one project to jointly improve transit, traffic, and mobility in Indianapolis.
    This is embarrassing.

    Yet the Statehouse embraces the rail project in northwest Indiana that is 8 miles long, cost more than all BRT in Indianapolis, and is projected to transport fewer people. But, perhaps the people served that those with whom Statehouse representative are more deserving of a major transit investment. Why them but not any transit users in Indianapolis.

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